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A child migrant dies or goes missing every day – UN report

8 July 20190 comments

Almost 1600 children have died while migrating from their homes over the past four years as they fled war, persecution, famine or extreme poverty, a new report has revealed.

Then UN migration agency IOM released its ‘Fatal Journeys’ report just days after the publication of a shocking image showing a Central American migrant father and daughter drowned in the Rio Grande, after they had tried to reach the US.

The IOM report says that of the 32,000 migrants who were reported dead or missing from 2014 to 2018, nearly 1,600 were children under the age of 18.

This figure represents an average of one child dead or missing per day, some as young as 6 months old.

“Tragically, we have been reminded in recent days that children are among the most vulnerable groups of migrants,” said Frank Laczko, director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, the bureau responsible for the report.

The most fatal migration route in the world is the Mediterranean, where over 17,900 people died between 2014 and 2018, the report said. It is also the deadliest place for children, with 678 deaths recorded.

But the report says the estimates are affected by the lack of reliable reporting. It says the remains of almost 12,000 people who drowned in the Mediterranean since 2014 have not been recovered or identified.

IOM researchers says that the global figure of deaths is likely to be underestimated, given that many deaths are never reported nor remains found.

Also, research shows that the sharp drop in deaths between 2017 and 2018 – to 4,734 from 6,280 – stems largely from a drop in the number of migrants using the Central Mediterranean route to Europe, when the number of recorded crossings from North Africa to Italy fell to less than 46,000 from over 144,000.

The report says 337 children died while migrating in Africa, although figures in that region are also difficult to be sure of. The highest number of deaths, 144, occurred in North Africa, presumably on their way to Europe, the report says.

It says that despite the conflict in Yemen, people continue to attempt the sea crossing from the Horn of Africa across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden: at least 125 people drowned off the shores of Yemen in 2018, compared with 53 in 2017.

Of almost 2,200 deaths recorded during migration in South-East Asia between 2014 and 2018, at least 1,723 were Rohingya migrants.

Most of the 288 deaths recorded in South Asia since 2014 were of Afghan migrants, the report said.

It said that in the Middle East, 421 deaths were recorded between 2014 and 2018; the largest number (145) in 2018.

And, an increasing number of deaths on the United States–Mexico border have been recorded each year since 2014, totalling 1,907 over five years, the report said.

It also highlighted the need for better data on migrant deaths and disappearances, particularly those of missing migrant children.

“The lack of data on the ages, characteristics and vulnerabilities of missing migrant children creates serious protection gaps; it makes it very difficult to create programs and policies designed to protect them,” Mr Laczko said.

Testimonies of migrants collected through surveys for the report suggested that children die crossing lakes and rivers, as well as traveling on land routes on foot or in overloaded vehicles.

Aside from the North Africa destination, migrants also head eastward to the Gulf countries or towards Southern Africa.

Southeast Asia has the next deadliest region in the world for migrating children. It is estimated that 363 children have died or have gone missing since 2014, with more than 70 per cent of deaths taking place in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Land routes to Europe are less dangerous for children. Nonetheless, some 40 children died while travelling by foot, bus, truck or train across Europe from 2014 to 2018.

Vehicle or train-related incidents were the most recorded cause of death.

In the Americas, roughly 84 children have died since 2014, with more than one third of them perishing on the US–Mexico border.

The report says that millions of children leave their countries to join family members, flee conflict and violence, search for better educational or employment opportunities and access to basic services.

As of 2017, researchers at UNICEF found that 30 million children worldwide are currently living outside their country of birth.

More than 12 million of them are refugees and approximately 1 million children are asylum-seeking children. Current estimates also suggest that the number of children traveling on their own has increased in recent years.

“There is an urgent need for better policies and action, informed by better data, to prevent these deaths and protect children,” said Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow at the UK’s University of Bristol and co-editor of the report.